rom the street, the Carmel home blends in with the neighborhood. The two-story abode on the burb’s east side is painted a quiet shade of green with a few leafy, mature trees in the front yard and a couple of Labrador retrievers trotting out to greet visitors.
Step into the backyard, though, and you might wonder if you’ve landed in the Pacific Northwest or rugged New England. The area looks nothing like a typical suburban landscape and more like the grounds of a lodge in New York. Water plays over craggy rocks, and a sapphire pool sits nestled among weathered sandstone and tall pines.
“Water in the landscape adds a tremendous amount,” says Bill Eagleson, owner of Eagleson Landscape Company and designer of the area. “It can be as simple as a fountain. It can be a pond. Water is sensory—it’s a white noise. It can kill road noises or sounds you really don’t want. It gives birds and critters a source of water, too.”
As the homeowners added elements over the past six to seven years, the backyard slowly transformed into its current state. Natural elements are juxtaposed with orderly pavers and concrete surfaces around the pool and patio area. An outdoor kitchen area is a fully functional prep area for cooking and eating when the weather cooperates.
Water flows freely in small but deliberately planned spaces, like the recirculating pond that separates the pool from the patio. Along the back, the pines shade a dry creek bed designed to become a flowing stream when rain comes or the home’s sump pump empties out. On drier days, a swing set waits just beyond the patio for the home’s youngest residents.
Eagleson drew his inspiration from nature, designing areas that flow into and complement the next.
“There’s a danger of creating a mess,” Eagleson says. “I’ve seen a lot of places that have a lot of beautiful elements, and each one has nothing to do with the other.”
“There’s a danger of creating a mess. I’ve seen a lot of places that have a lot of beautiful elements, and each one has nothing to do with the other.”
Eagleson met the homeowners back in 2009, when they were looking to extend a 12-foot by 12-foot deck to a patio with pavers and a fire pit. Eagleson designed the patio with concrete pavers in varying sizes and a curved border allowing the space to extend gracefully into the rest of the backyard. A patio set is perfect for outdoor dining, and the spacious area can easily accommodate a crowd for a casual cocktail party. Next, Eagleson rebuilt the patio under an existing pergola just off the home and transformed that part of the yard from a generic deck into an outdoor kitchen and entertaining space.
While the homeowners were trying to decide if they wanted a pool, Eagleson suggested taking water in a different direction. He eyed the narrow space between the proposed pool and existing patio and recommended a pondless creek—a recirculating stream rolling along a riverbed of weathered sandstone pieces in varying shapes and sizes. A large, flat stone hides the water source and keeps the water flowing among a curving colorful rock formation. Eagleson accented the pond with unique plants, like the Uncle Fogy pine with its twisted branches.
The narrow space meant the creek had to be set down painstakingly, Eagleson recalls. Instead of laying out a liner and placing rocks, workers had to create the stream bit by bit, unrolling the liner a few feet each time and adding rocks as they carved out the creek in the home’s backyard. The project’s construction was like a puzzle, Eagleson says.
“One thing I’ll tell people with water features is that I have no idea what it’s going to look like until I dig it up and find out what rocks I end up with,” Eagleson says. “The project evolves and comes together.”
Eagleson loves to talk about nature, and he’s always looking for ideas while spending time in upstate New York, Northern Minnesota, or Southern Indiana. As a Purdue freshman, Eagleson quickly figured out he wasn’t going to be happy in a lab with a chemical engineering degree. He talked to a counselor about his love for the outdoors and was encouraged to pursue landscape architecture. By combining those two passions, Eagleson seeks to recreate natural settings in his clients’ backyards.
“We look at how nature has done her thing, and we try to emulate her,” Eagleson says.
These bucolic landscapes are more than just a pretty picture. In many cases, Eagleson is able to combine form and function—like the home’s dry creek bed that runs along the back of the lot. The rocky creek bed starts near the house and meanders through the backyard. In dry weather, it’s a picturesque path of pebbles and large rocks of various sizes. Colorful plants and mulch surround the bed and provide contrast and texture. In rainy weather, the creek bed fills up with water from the home’s downspouts and sump pump, transforming into a bubbling stream that draws the water away from the home into a natural drainage pattern.
At the edge of the pool, a large, heavy piece of sandstone takes the place of a traditional diving board. The homeowners toyed with the idea of having a diving board, but they weren’t sure they wanted the necessary pool depth. Sandstone gives the kids a jumping-off spot while tying the pool to the rest of the backyard. Plus, there’s a history lesson in that sandstone.
“That thickness was laid down by a flood or some other event that washed sand into the area, and over millions of years the pressure solidified it,” Eagleson explains.
He hopes his clients have learned to expect the extraordinary from him. As a tradition, Eagleson likes to leave behind a random rock—something that might be found in nature for no apparent reason. It’s intended as a conversation piece, a reminder that nature has its own order. Eagleson’s staff has taken it a step further, sometimes creating cairns like the stack of stones set near the pool and other similar markers.
“If you’re out in nature, you’ll find rocks in weird places,” he says. “It’s just kind of a thing where people ask why, and we say, because. It gets people to interact with the space.”
As for Eagleson, he’s open to trying something never done before.
“I’m always looking [for new ideas],” Eagleson says. “Nature is a great teacher.”
This article appeared in Indianapolis Monthly Home, a 2016 special publication.